Redefining Our Profession Along Holistic Lines

Long ago, when I was a student at the Indiana University School of Music, the boundaries around voice teaching were tightly drawn.  Voice lessons consisted of solving vocal issues and studying musical interpretation, with the goal of becoming a professional classical singer.  Discussion of personal, professional, or spiritual issues was, for the most part, not included.  I can remember teachers saying, “I’m a voice teacher, not a therapist.”  Likewise, I also remember hearing “I’m a voice teacher, not a career counselor.”  Certainly any discussion of spirituality or God occurred only in the Religious Studies Department, despite the fact that much of the music we studied and performed had been directly inspired by a composer’s spiritual beliefs or response. It was this teaching modality – strictly defined and highly constrained — that I, and perhaps many of you, adopted as our teaching standard.  It is what we had known, it was how we were trained, and it was what we had come to believe was pedagogically correct. Even at the time, though, this struck me as odd.  It felt difficult for me to create boundaries where experientially I felt none existed. For me, always, the voice was at one with the body, feelings, and spirit of the singer, and reflected the nature of that singer perfectly.  But what did I know? I was just the student! So, I struggled for years – and at great cost to myself — to address vocal issues, and to grow as a singer and artist, without addressing any of the other aspects of myself in harmony with my singer self-identity.  I was compartmentalizing, instead...

With Paul, On the Road to Damascus

This story is true. It is offered to voice teachers in the hopes that it may help them. If the title offends, skip it, but read the story anyway.  It isn’t a religious story, but it is a deeply spiritual one. The title just had to be, because the story asked me to call it that. It is a story of a teacher and a student…or perhaps, of a student and a teacher. It is called: With Paul, On the Road to Damascus It was to be a working vacation. I arrived at a rustic hot spring resort in the middle of nowhere tired, stressed, angry, and fearful. Tired, because I had worked straight through from Thanksgiving to New Year’s without a break. Stressed, because my work never leaves me — there’s always more to do — and I’ve never made less money in my life. Angry, because I felt misunderstood and disrespected by someone I myself respect deeply. Fearful, because in my clearest, most honest moments, I was terrified that the not-for-profit school I had founded would not survive – a victim of the recession, singers’ own terror at the screaming of their Inner Critic telling them how unworthy they were, and the enormous change facing everyone, everywhere, but especially in the arts. Fearful too, because if the school failed, and if I somehow couldn’t teach voice until the day I drop dead, I really didn’t know what else I’d do.  I am a voice teacher, and this is all I do. If I couldn’t teach voice, I’d starve. Yes indeed, I was having a real pity party,...